I've reviewed these winners and made them part of my Mac OS X configuration.Total packages: 149Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Venerable Shortcut-Manager Freeware Gets A Rewrite
Version as tested: 3.0 b2.
New Freeware Gathers Torrents for Your Favorite Shows
Version as tested: 0.3.4.
Version as tested: 2.3.
Still Yearning for Audio Feedback When Typing?
Version as tested: 1.0.6.
Freeware Menubar Utility Provides Screen Locking with a Keystroke
Apple does provide the function users would like... just not the keyboard equivalent. If you have enabled Fast User Switching, you probably have the "Users" menu extra in your system menubar. That item has a menu selection called "Login Window...", which will get you there. Now, there are several ways to get a keyboard shortcut attached to that item. One is to use Quicksilver, which is what I did.
Quicksilver comes with a built-in script called "Fast Logout," and it's basically the same as a call to the Mac OS X login screen. To get my Ctrl-L shortcut, I just created a trigger for it in Quicksilver.
Another easy way is to get rid of Apple's "Users" menu extra and install the free, open-source menu extra WinSwitch instead. Open WinSwitch's preferences and you'll discover you can set a keyboard shortcut to open the login window!
Still, there's always room for a better idea if you're a Mac user, so I was delighted to discover Utility Lock today. I haven't tried it yet, but from the looks of it, Utility Lock is a specialized tool that goes to the heart of what users want in screen locking. It sits in your menubar and provides a quick means to lock up your screen at a keystroke. It doesn't use the Fast User Switching function at all, but instead is more like DeskShade, which has a screen-locking mechanism that puts a big padlock on your screen. (But unlike Utility Lock, DeskShade ain't free.)
Version as tested: 1.0.1.
New Native Mac App for Home Design
Version as tested: 1.0.
Download Websites Using the Unix Utility wGet
Version as tested: 2.6.2.
New Web Development App Mimics xCode/Dashcode
Version as tested: 1.0.
Version as tested: 1.2.6.
A Free App for Playing Screensavers on Your Desktop
Update 1/5/08. Yes! Wallsaver started out a year ago as many promising software projects do... a little too buggy for regular use. But now, with the many updates made in the meantime, it's perfect for users who'd like to enjoy their screensavers and slideshows on the desktop rather than walking away just as they're starting. With Leopard, the joys are multiplied, since you can now run slideshows of any iPhoto album as a matter of routine, without any preparation in iPhoto. And Wallsaver can capture those as well as any other movies you happen to have ready for full-screen viewing as a screensaver. Apple should simply build this functionality into the OS... but until they do, Wallsaver is about the most lightweight (it's written in AppleScript), free option out there. The developer has added Sparkle to the software, so staying up with the latest version is a breeze and requires virtually no action on your part.
Version as tested: 1.3.6.
Geeks Gotta Love It! A Free Hex Editor... and Much More
Update 10/11/07. I actually made this decision a few months ago, but I'm running behind in posting stuff. Peekit is a great tool for taking a look inside binary files, especially those that aren't mach-o executables. It's relatively easy to extract or modify text in such files. I used this to figure out how to modify FastOrSlow's icon to be white instead of black for Crystal Clear. Horrible icon, but hey, not everyone's an artist. It's just that usually they aren't Mac users. :-)
Version as tested: 2.5.4.
The Cocoa "Photoshop Lite" I've Been Waiting For?
- Its product activation feature is the worst one. I just bought the upgrade to CS3 last month, and already I had to uninstall and reinstall Photoshop on this computer because Adobe's system thinks my license is no good. (I use Photoshop on two computers, as allowed under the license--one at home and one at work. But I also run it under different versions of Apple's operating system since I'm in the OS X developer program, and each time I upgrade and forget to "deactivate" Photoshop first, I'm in trouble.) This is just too big a pain in the butt to deal with. Heck, it's my software, Adobe... I paid through the nose for it! Gimme a break.
- Its cost. Honestly, is an image editing program worth this to me? If my company didn't buy my license, I'd have to seriously consider saying No.
- Its technical construction. I'm just really getting tired of Carbon-based apps for the Mac. Even when they're not ugly, they lack features I've come to rely on in all my apps--such as being able to toggle between two document windows using Cmd-~ and being able to count on Cocoa's built-in access to the dictionary and spellcheck services of Mac OS X. I also know right away if I'm in a Carbon app if the scrollwheel stops working (though this isn't a problem with Photoshop in particular).
- Its bulk. I'm accustomed to it, of course, but the fact is that Photoshop consumes huge amounts of disk space and takes an inordinately long time to load. Surely we can do better in 2007!
So last week, I noticed that one of my favorite Mac OS X software vendors, Flying Meat, had released a new product called Acorn. Flying Meat owner and lead (only?) light-bulb, Gus Mueller, describes Acorn as "the bitmap image editor I've been dreaming out for years..."
It wasn't until today that I found time to download Acorn, and I haven't yet had time to do a full evaluation, but let me just say this is the first such product I've tried in the last year or two that comes close to being my hoped-for Photoshop replacement.
Virtually every function I use daily is there, and its interface is refreshingly simple and clean. Imagine zooming in and out with a simple slider in your document window, rather than fiddling with the Navigation pane or fussing with Cmd+ and Cmd- repeatedly, just to zoom in for a closer look and then zoom back out. The app is filled with small touches like this that I know will save me lots of time.
Acorn utilizes Apple's Core Image filter set, and provides for third-party plugins. It also leverages Mac OS X native tools like Automator to enable workflow actions you can easily add to its Actions menu. The only thing I couldn't figure out how to do easily in 5 minutes was drop shadows. There may be more such items, but this is just a first impression report.
All I can say is, if you've felt as I have about Photoshop lately, you won't be wasting your time to check out Acorn. At an introductory price of $40, it looks like a real gem of a software bargain.
Version as tested: 1.0.
Update 8/12/12: After using version 1 and upgrading to version 2, I can say that this software is definitely worth the modest investment to get on board. I'm going to spend the $20 to upgrade to version 3! One of the niftiest features is the ability to transform an image to an illustration... quite cool. My only gripe is that Acorn doesn't have integration with my scanner, so I'll have to keep using Photoshop for that kind of workflow.
Enlist A Pro To Tackle Your Plist Files
Update 10/17/06. The answer to my earlier question is "Yes," if what I meant was "which ones have been set" by the application's GUI Preferences settings. PlistEdit Pro is probably my favorite application for editing and working with application preferences, though it's taking second place in my toolbox to PrefSetter, since the latter is free and does most of what PlistEdit Pro does for $25. That's the price of freeware nowadays... possibly pissing a lot of talented developers off. But PrefSetter isn't the only decent freeware .plist editor out there. Not counting Apple's, which I mentioned before, there's also a good one from the developers of TinkerTool. It's a bit different, but still useful, tool called PrefEdit. So, as good as it is, PlistEdit Pro's price would have to be at least 50% lower to entice me to buy.
Update 3/30/07. Hold on a minute. I just discovered one or two things PlistEdit Pro can do that just might justify its somewhat high price tag, so I'm putting it back in the evaluation queue for awhile. The one function that was a requirement tonight is the abiliity to search and replace multiple values in a .plist file, something the free tools can't do. In confirming this, I discovered a host of other very cool features. Clearly, most people can make do fine with PrefSetter, but PlistEdit Pro may just be necessary once your needs get a little beyond the basics.
Update 7/8/07. I actually bought a license for this great software back in May, but I'm way behind in updating the software inventory on Mars. :-( As a devoted and very happy user of the free tool PrefSetter, I was delighted to find that PlistEdit Pro has some significant enhancements that I've found truly unique and useful.
I bought PlistEdit Pro after repeated occasions when this handy utility performed tasks that nothing else in my toolbox could touch, though I still think $25 is a bit steep for a plist editor. Nevertheless, PlistEdit Pro has so many powerful, pro-level features that it's a must-have for anyone who needs or wants to poke around in their application's plist files. Here's just one example of PlistEdit Pro's killer features: You can search not only across your system for plists by filename, but you can search for plists with keywords in their contents. But that's not all! You can even restrict the results to only hits where your keyword is in the file's key fields, or in its value fields.
My notes of the software's pros and cons follow:
Version as tested: 1.3.
Quickly Resize, Crop, Apply Image Effects for Free
All you do is drag an image from the Finder or your Desktop, activate Dashboard, and drop it in Photo Drop. From there, you can easily resize and reposition the image, or you can resize the widget and then enlarge or shrink the image. On the back is a selection for effects, backgrounds (including transparent), and for the image output format you desire. If you like, you can have Photo Drop do an image correction and/or add a watermark. Then flip the widget back over and click the "Done" button. Photo Drop instantly displays your new image with two quick choices to copy it to the clipboard or save it to your desktop. Alternatively, you can just drag it from the widget and into whatever application you need it.
A couple of other details about Photo Drop that makes it really useful for professionals are that it displays height and widgth, as well as a grid, as you resize it. So if you need an image of a certain size, you can get there without opening your regular image editor. In addition, you can paste the clipboard into Photo Drop. Finally, you can drag applications or folders to PhotoDrop to extract their icons. I made the accompanying image by
- Dropping QuickTime onto PhotoDrop,
- Adding the Aqua background and reflection effect,
- Resizing the image and widget to my liking and clicking Done.
- Next, I had PhotoDrop copy to the clipboard,
- Pasted the clipboard back into PhotoDrop,
- Changed the background to Black,
- Had PhotoDrop copy that image and pasted it back again.
- Next I used the keyboard shortcut Cmd-Ctrl-Shift-4 to make a screen snapshot of the widget on the clipboard,
- Pasted that image into PhotoDrop,
- Resized the whole thing to exactly 200 pixels wide,
- Added a PushPin effect and a transparent background, and then
- Had PhotoDrop save that image to my Desktop.
Writing it down, that seems like a lot of steps, but I sure couldn't have done it any faster with any other tool I know about. Sweet, simple, and elegant: This is a Dashboard widget at its best, and it does things that, sad to say, other widget frameworks simply can't. But that's OK, you're already using the best one anyway. :-)
Version as tested: 0.5.4.
Simply The Best Free Window Tricks
- WindowDragon is the only tool that lets me keep my left mouse button free, to keep the keyboard shortcut simple. You see, as my library of custom keyboard shortcuts has grown, the ability of my tiny brain to remember them all has shrunk. With WindowDragon, I can keep the shortcut to one key, and for me that tiny number is huge! WindowDragon can do this because it lets me use the right-hand mouse button instead of the left, thereby avoiding interfering with all the hundreds of other shortcuts that rely on the left. It definitely takes a little practice to automatically use the right mouse key for a drag function, but once learned, it's a blessing.
- WindowDragon is the only tool of all those I tested that could resize my QuartzClocks ⤴ windows even when their background was set to fully transparent. This is cool because my favorite QuartzClocks clock---the digital one---by default resizes with its background window. But if you make the window transparent, you can't resize it using the little widget in the lower right-hand corner. Ergo, you either live with a huge clock (since you can't change the font size), or you find a Window Trick somewhere. Lucky for me, I found one. :-)
- Because WindowDragon is a haxie, using Unsanity's APE framework, rather than a Cocoa plugin, it can work with older Carbon apps like the Finder, as well as newer Cocoa apps. Though some of the commercial products also can do this, none of the other free ones can.
Now, a major caveat for WindowDragon is that you have to first install the free APE framework. But the APE framework won't run on Leopard (yet), so WindowDragon, unfortunately, does me no good when I'm working on my Leopard build. :-( I haven't decided what I'm going to do about that yet, but it is a bit of a pain for now. Otherwise, I have never experienced any instability or other problems stemming from WindowDragon, and I've really enjoyed having it around... and knowing it didn't cost me a dime! :-)
Here are a few notes I took while testing WindowDragon.
Version as tested: 1.1b2.
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